The full-scale war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine was also the first full-scale war of drones in history. It is known that Ukraine is building a whole “army of drones”. The project is implemented, in particular, thanks to monetary donations and the transfer of drones – anyone can donate their drone to the Ukrainian Defense Forces if the device meets certain characteristics. Recently, Kyiv reported that they had trained 10,000 UAV operators. What role do drones play and will play in the current war, how are the doctrines of their use being transformed? We are discussing with the former aviator of the French armed forces, a specialist in the field of aeronautics Xavier Tytelman.
RFI: What role will the Ukrainian drone army play in the upcoming UAF counteroffensive?
Xavier Titelman: Not even exactly in the counteroffensive. In general, it should be understood that there are many categories of drones. The smallest devices many people can buy, they cost from a few hundred to two or three thousand euros. This is equipment that helps to increase the overall effectiveness of the army. UAVs increase the accuracy of artillery strikes: with drones, it takes less ammunition to hit the target, and there is confidence that the target will be hit.
Drones allow you to detect offensive actions of the enemy, that is, this is a good warning system. The Ukrainians actively used this in Vuhledar, which made it possible to prevent the Russian offensive there .
Drones help soldiers in trenches. There is a drone in the air, and its operator says to the soldiers, for example: “30 meters to the right, there are two, you can throw a grenade.” In this case, the efficiency is multiplied.
Recently, these drones are being transformed into small bombers – they drop small ammunition.
All this is rather in favor of Ukraine, which from the very beginning integrated what is called “techno-guérilla” (techno-guérilla), that is, the use of drones in war that were not originally intended for military purposes. They are available in tens of thousands of copies.
Ukraine has long been asking for Western military aircraft and longer-range missiles. Can an army of drones at least partially replace classical aviation and long-range missiles?
No. In the field of bombing, the possibilities here are limited. Neither of the two armies has the capabilities comparable, for example, to the French or American.
The Ukrainians had Bayraktar TB2 drones, a priori they continue to use them with a certain efficiency. But their combat load is limited to a few tens of kilograms. On the other hand, the Russians had Forpost-R, created on the basis of an Israeli drone. They had very few copies, they suffered losses at the beginning of the war. Now these drones are used only for reconnaissance from a long distance.
What is expected from aircraft is the ability to drop very high yield munitions. For example, what the Ukrainians have already integrated, and what has already been dropped in the Bakhmut area, are air bombs up to 500 kg-one ton. These are giant bombs, bigger than the actual drone. When a 500-kilogram bomb can be dropped, and when it can be dropped at a distance of 40-50-70 km (that is, without the threat of being intercepted by the fighter that drops it), this is a gigantic destructive force. They can hit the bunkers, along the lines of defense. This can be used to clear the way for a ground offensive. An amateur drone or a drone of a small size, like the Bayraktar, cannot make it possible to strike with bombs of this category, of this size.
Of course, there are Shahed-type drones that the Russians used a lot. The Ukrainians deployed the same type of [Chinese-made] Mugin-5 drones that were used in the recent attack [on an oil depot] in Sevastopol . These are smaller drones carrying several tens of kilograms of explosives. Their range is usually limited to 300 kilometers, but they are often intercepted.
Another dimension is cruise missiles. These are heavier systems, with hundreds of kilograms of explosives, with meter accuracy, they do not need a GPS signal, and they do not need to be remotely piloted. If GPS is interfered with in a certain area, small drones, like Iranian ones, will get lost and will not find a given target. Whereas classic cruise missiles like Storm Shadow, which the British can give to Ukraine, can accurately hit, for example, the pillar of the Kerch bridge with a hit confidence of almost 100%.
To summarize, the army of drones that Ukraine is creating cannot replace classic aviation and long-range missiles.
No, it won’t replace. Interestingly, the Ukrainians are requesting Western fighters, but there is an innovation: with the help of their allies, especially the Americans, they have already managed to integrate a certain number of Western-style missiles into their fighters. In particular, on the MiG-29. Therefore, now there is no urgent need to have Western fighters to strike with JDAM guided bombs, they can be used with the MiG-29. For cruise missiles, Western aircraft are needed.
Either way, the drone army, as it is called, greatly increases the operational efficiency of the army, but will not be able to replace fighter jets in their missions.
If we compare the doctrines of the use of drones by Russia and Ukraine, whose army uses them more effectively from a military point of view?
Drones are the only area where Ukraine has a quantitative, qualitative and operational advantage at the same time.
Ukrainians have a lot of drones. They rely on all the industries of all their allies: from Taiwan to Poland, to the United States, to France. In this sense, the operational possibilities are gigantic.
The Russians tried to adapt Israeli drones. If we talk about large drones, they only have about 30 copies. They also have smaller surveillance drones, which have been a disappointment. For example, Orlan-10 drones with very weak optics. We learned that the Russians used $400 cameras as optics on their surveillance drones. In terms of their resolution and capabilities, they are very weak.
And since there was no freedom on the Russian side to use drones by soldiers, in the end this use on the battlefield (for artillery, etc.) affected mainly Ukraine.
How did it happen that Russia accumulated a backlog in the field of drones?
Russia unsuccessfully tried to create an autonomous industry. She purchased Israeli drones of the previous generation. She tried to improve them a little, for example, so that they could drop small bombs. But in the end, they failed to create something comparable to Bayraktars.
When did Russia buy Israeli drones to adapt them?
After the war with Georgia in 2008, when they realized that they had accumulated a large lag in the use of drones compared to Israel in particular. They wanted to raise their level. They bought some drones, but not many. At least compared to what Ukraine has already received. Ukraine only bought a hundred German surveillance drones. This is the equivalent of the Russian Orlans, but with better optics.
Another problem for the Russians is that they depend on imports and cannot produce. In their drones, they put optics for the general public. That is, civil technologies of not the best quality are adapted for military purposes.
The fight against drones is now becoming a task of key importance. To what extent has Ukraine progressed in this area?
There are several ways to deal with drones. This is the creation of interference, which allows you to block communications. This, for example, is widely used by Russia in the Bakhmut region. This reduces the possibility for Ukraine to use civilian drones – drones for two thousand euros. The effectiveness of interference is limited by the area where this method is used: the range of interference is limited to a few kilometers.
There are also anti-drone guns that are used “from the shoulder”. This is an electromagnetic pulse that creates local interference if there are no more “heavy” systems. Here Ukraine has an advantage, because the Netherlands, France, Israel, Taiwan sell them. Their deliveries to Russia are blocked, that is, Ukraine has more of these guns.
There are, of course, systems that allow you to shoot down drones. Both armies have more or less the same equipment here. Ukraine has a slight advantage, which relies on all its allies.
Ukraine does not use kamikaze drones in such large numbers as Russia. Russia , in alliance with Iran, sent hundreds and hundreds of kamikaze drones.
Thus, Ukraine’s anti-drone air defense is more powerful, but it is not sufficient as Russia sends more kamikaze drones.
Ukraine also uses innovative methods to combat drones. For example, an application that allows residents to signal drones that Russia sends deep into Ukrainian territory, far beyond the front line.
In fact, what we here call “drones” is a kind of linguistic abuse. These are not drones, but low-cost missiles. Shaheds, for example, are not remotely controlled, they are sent to a predetermined position, and it is impossible to change the target. The drone can usually be piloted, its direction or actions can be changed. Therefore, Shahedas are loco-missiles.
Regardless of the type of missiles – Shahedas or cruise missiles – the Ukrainians have developed a special application – I see a missile, point to it. It allows you to track the location, make a calculation and warn where an attack may be in a few minutes. This application is part of an innovation where Ukrainians have demonstrated extraordinary abilities. This improves the effectiveness of their air defenses.
To what extent does the Russian-Ukrainian war transform the doctrines of the use of drones in other armies of the world?
There is an intensification of procurement of drones. Countries like France are rushing to procure loitering munitions — kamikaze drones like the Switchblade 300. They are also urgently announcing competitions for drone development projects. The French General Directorate of Armaments called for the creation of loitering ammunition with certain specifics: these are devices cheaper than 20 thousand euros, which could break through a window and then explode indoors, and so on.
We are talking about a revolution in the use of drones. In particular, small drones. Rare armies were massively equipped with small drones that every soldier could use.
Source : RFI